The schedule for the next two race days on Kauai is listed above. We arrived in Kauai on the night of Wednesday, May 11, 2022 at roughly 9pm. Not sure about time, but probably reached the Hotel and got checked-in/settled between 10:30 and 11pm. The Chief and my sis prepared for the next day and my brother-in-law, Chris, got my bike (and all things bike related) in order. I ate some food and went to bed. Up at 4:30 am. More oatmeal with nuts, banana, maple syrup! Yum! Crew tip – get a small/mini rice cooker . . . We made almost all my breakfasts in it. I got a huge cup of coffee and enjoyed the view before the 6am swim start.
I’ve had a lot of people ask questions about my planning, attention to detail, race strategy, etc., and to be honest, despite my engineering background, I tend to just “wing it” a lot of the time! While I have a basic outline of what I want to accomplish in my training, many days are planned the night before or day of, depending on how I’m feeling. While my bike setup is meticulaously dialed-in, most everything else is not! I’m always last minute with things and used my new swimskin, wetsuit, and helmet, among other things, for the first time during the event! I put a new saddle on my bike (although I had the same ISM saddle on my road and gravel bike) only days before packing my bike to ship to Hawaii and only had one or two rides on it before the Deca. Similarly, other than CarboPro (a pure complex carb energy source), much of my nutrition was used for the first time at the event (vegan protein/energy bars, Skratch vegan energy bars, plant-based protein drinks, etc.). I wouldn’t recommend this, but I’ve always had an ironclad stomach and the intensity of this event was rather low compared to single day events. So, for those who’ve asked, my crew and I were far from a prepared, well-oiled machine!
The below pic from Oahu illustrates yet another example. Before leaving for Hawaii, I was working on drilling/machining some aluminum bike parts for a customer, while wearing crocs (these same crocs make several appearances throughout the Deca 😉), of course! I ended up with numerous fine metal shavings in my feet and didn’t mention anything until we arrived on Oahu a few days later! Nothing like a little surgery the night before attempting to complete 10 iron distance races in 10 days!
Many times during my training I’d simply make do with what I had. For example, when heading out for a 4 hour run during Ultraman Florida prep (in December or January), I had no sports nutrition on hand and grabbed a handful of mini peppermint patties as I walked out the door! Not only did they seem get the job done, I got to ‘feel the sensation” for close to 30 miles! Sugar in the Raw packets work well also 😊!
After being first across the line on Day 1 at Ultraman Florida in 2017, my sister and I would always joke about how other athletes and crews must think we really have our $hit together . . . meanwhile, I was taking my first ever ice bath prepared by my crew, which was essentially a rice milk and vanilla “Ensure” bath as several bottles opened/spilled in our team ice cooler. Yup . . . all the cool kids are doing milk baths these days!! And yes, my crew lost me during the Ultraman Florida Day 2 bike also!
Back to the task at hand. I was feeling good and ready to race! Legs were finally feeling recovered and I was looking forward to the traditional swim, bike, run order of triathlon disciplines. Iron distance No. 3 . . . and GO!
Matt “The Shadow” Phelan looking like a man amongst men!
The swim was at Kalapaki Beach and we swam back/forth parallel to the shoreline. I was feeling good, but swam 1:23, which gives an idea of how rough the swim was. As the swim became more choppy, I remember approaching the turn bouy (I believe it was a permanent navagational marine bouy) at one point during the swim and seeing Mr. Scott James (Epic Staff), who’s built like a brick $hit house, physically holding the anchor/concrete block, to which the bouy was chained, to stop it from being swept away! I couldn’t help chuckle a bit as I made the turn and continued on with the swim.
Scott James and William Medina solving the world’s problems from a beach in Kauai!
Once out of the swim, I was really looking forward to the bike and being away from the trafic on Oahu. The bike course on Oahu had close to 4,000 ft of climbing and the next two days on Kauai would have over 5000 ft. It was a challenging bike course. I rode out to Moloa’s Fruit Stand before the 20 mile mark and then through the “Tunnel of Trees” close to the 80 mile mark, which was a beautiful stretch of road. There was an out and back section past Kekaha Beach Park (5 miles out/5 miles back) before passing the Kauai Coffee Orchards on my way back to the hotel. On the “out” portion of the out and back section, I had to do a double take as I passed my crew (crew vehicles were not allowed in the out/back section). I had about ten miles to contemplate what the hell I’d just seen! I can always count on my sis to lighten the mood. Moments like this go a long way to keep morale high!
The run was a figure 8 course through the hotel grounds ( 6 x 4 plus mile loops). This made it a bit easier on the crew as they could setup in one location and I could grab fluids/nutrition as needed after each loop. I was joined for a loop by Epic staffer, Mark Naphin, Sasquatch No. 3, eh! Seriously, another giant of a man . . . I tell you he’s 10 stories high if he’s a foot! More on Mark later, but it was great to have some company and we quickly got to know each other over the course of a loop. I always find it amazing how being completely shattered can easily topple walls that are otherwise impenetrable.
Mark and The Chief . . .
I finished the run feeling ok and was looking forward to another day on Kauai. Back to the room for food (veggie burgers) and to bed.
I don’t typically believe in luck (good or bad), but Friday the 13th is often considered an unlucky day among the supersticious and my second day on Kauai certainly didn’t help prove otherwise! On Day 4, we welcomed the classic Epic5 athletes, Toni, Pra, and David, who would be attempting to complete 5 iron distance events in 5 days on 5 islands. It was great to have them join us as they brought a new energy to the group.
David Adams and crew . . .
Toni Marin Ramos and crew . . .
Prarabdh Awasthi and crew . . .
These athletes were all incredible in their own ways. Toni’s an experienced ultra-endurance athlete and a crazy ball of energy. Pra was the definition of quiet determination and I don’t believe David had even done an iron distance race prior to Epic. I hope to write more about them later.
Just before the swim start, we again all formed a circle and joined hands for a traditional Hawaiian blessing to welcome the new participants, express gratitude, and ask for continued health, safety, and strength. Once again, with no fuss or formality, we each made our way into the ocean for a 2.4 mile swim to start Day No. 4 (or No. 1).
Because the swim was so choppy the day before, the course was changed to an out and back swim (perpendicular to the shoreline). As always, I enjoyed the swim and it helped loosen up my body for the rest of the day to come.
Most of the incredible photo’s shared in these posts are courtesy of Colin F Cross. Colin is hard to describe. Although I only got to know him for a relatively short time, he’s about as real a person as I’ve ever met. A true renaissance man, Colin is incredibly smart, a student of the world, a deep thinker, a fun-loving and kindhearted human being, and a passionately devoted husband and father.
Regarding his photography, Colin has the rare ability of not only capturing a moment in time, but the thoughts, feelings and emotions associated with that moment. He also has a way of scaring the daylights out of weary athletes in the water, on the bike, or while running, all in the name of getting that perfect shot! Throughout the Deca, Colin could be seen (or not seen) clinging to the bottom of the ocean floor, perched high on a mountainside, dangling precariously from a moving vehicle, or hiding in the dark during a nighttime run!
Colin F Cross . . .
The Swim – Kauai
Once out the water, I wasn’t quite as quick to get on my bike and head out for another 112 mile ride as in days past! Once on my bike though, I settled in, got down to business, and started ticking off the miles!
Toni is a strong athlete and his presence added a nice energy to the daily grind. He was always quite animated, and you never had to wonder how he was feeling! We crossed paths several times on the bike and he was always smiling and yelling some type of encouragement (I think), but I really had no idea what he, or his crew, was saying most of the time!
It was getting HOT and as the ride went on, I could feel my legs and feet starting to swell. The skin on my calves was tight and they felt like balloons ready to pop! At one fuel stop about halfway through the ride, my brother-in-law commented on the size of my calves, which looked like cantaloupe’s rather than my normal, underwhelmingly average, orange or apple sized calves! I’m not sure if I have poor circulation in general, a tendency towards a higher core temp when racing in hot conditions, something else entirely, or a combination of factors, but I’ve experienced severe swelling in the past after hard, hot races and training days. For this reason, making sure I consumed enough water, salt, and other electrolytes was a top priority. As mentioned in my Race Day 2 Post here, https://theenergylab.net/race-day-2-epicdeca-oahu/, I used LMNT for my salt/electrolytes (1000mg Salt, 200mg Potassium, 60mg Magnesium) mixed into a 750ml bottle containing the majority of my nutrition, of which I drank one per hour.
I made it back to the hotel and was happy to get off the bike, but the swelling in my calves and feet was getting worse and it was immediately uncomfortable to walk. There’s not much to say about the next 26.2 miles. I didn’t think it would come on Day 4, but I knew the moment would come when the challenge was no longer physical. I wanted this moment to come. It’s why I do these events. The difficulty was no longer the unknown, the distance, the lack of sleep, or the muscle soreness, it was the actual knowing, in no uncertain terms, how excruciatingly painful the next 26.2 miles would be before I’d even taken a single step. Typically, anticipation is worse than the reality . . . not so for me on that day. Every step was just as imagined! Regardless, I was getting exactly what I wanted from the event and the pain never overshadowed my gratitude at the realization that I’m able to do this. Both my sister and my mom each joined me for a loop around the hotel grounds. The other 4 loops were spent alone or briefly walking with other athletes. I used every tool I had to get through that run. Mantra’s were my running partners . . “I chose to do this” . . . “nothing lasts forever” . . . “take what the day gives you” . . . “this is living”.
That last one was coined by my good friend and amazing athlete, Brian Lovett. We went for an easy recovery swim in Mirror Lake the day after Ironman Lake Placid many, many, many years ago. During a brief pause in the middle of the lake looking at the mountains in the distance (it was a literal Bob Ross painting 😉), he turned and said, “this is living”. It’s been a staple of mine ever since!
I find it amazing how, when feeling my absolute worst, a glow from a headlamp in the distance or a faint voice from behind can spark a renewed focus on the task at hand. There’s no magic/secret weapon. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve accomplished in the past, distance is the ultimate equalizer and these events do NOT discriminate. The only certainty is that it will get very hard! It’s a cliché because it’s true, but I simply put one foot in front of the other until I ticked off another 26.2 miles.
It’s hard to describe the sense of relief when I finished the run. I was in bad shape. I felt sick and light-headed, and struggled to get back to the room. Compression from my socks kept fluid from settling in my feet but resulted in severely swollen calves.
The dreaded club foot . . .
It was painful to move. My skin was tight, uncomfortable, and itchy. I had the chills and began to shiver and shake . . . my teeth were chattering. I had no appetite and felt nauseous. From my skin to my bones and internal organs, my entire body ached. I experienced severe soreness and pain with the slightest movement or touch. To be clear, I was FUCKED up.
My crackerjack medical staff was on the job and first tended to my feet, addressing any blisters or potential problems. They forced me to put my legs up and rubbed my feet and calves with alcohol and gave me a diuretic.
So what happened? Was I dehydrated? Did I consume enough water, salt/electrolytes?
Exercise induced swelling, or edema, isn’t uncommon in ultra endurance sports. During a triathlon, the heart and lungs receive the majority of the blood, while blood flow to the hands and feet is reduced. To compensate, the blood vessels in the limbs expand to try to get more blood to the extremities. Hot temps can increase the likelihood of exercise induced edema. As the large muscles heat up during exercise, to reduce core temp, blood is pushed to the smaller capillaries closest to the skin (hands & feet) to dissipate that heat. Since the blood vessels are already dilated (to circulate a greater volume of blood), their permeability is increased and the tiny blood vessels actually leak fluid, which builds up in nearby tissue and leads to swelling.
It’s complicated though. The body is constantly trying to maintain the right balance of electrolytes so having too much salt (or water) or too little salt (or water) can both be problematic and contribute to exercise-induced edema. Electrolyte imbalances, particularly in sodium levels, caused by consuming too much water (or having high sweat rate), thereby diluting the body with too much fluid, can lead to hyponatremia (low levels of sodium in the body). This can contribute to fluid retention/edema as low sodium (and potassium) levels in the blood can lead to fluid leaking through blood vessels in an effort to maintain appropriate blood sodium levels. However, the opposite is also true. Taking excessive amounts of sodium can also result in fluid retention, as the body tries to dilute sodium levels back down to acceptable concentrations by holding onto water.
So, back to me. After talking to my crew, we all felt confident the majority of my issues were the result of consuming too much salt. As I mentioned earlier, I was hyper focused on making sure I drank enough fluid and got sufficient amounts of salt/electrolyte. My mistake was that I treated each day as a standalone race and didn’t account for the cumulative amount of salt ingested over two, three, and four days! Additionally, the muscle soreness caused by going too hard on the Day 1 marathon probably contributed to the swelling as well (Ultra-distance exercise, especially running can cause physical damage to tissue & blood vessels. This muscle breakdown can also cause leakage and pooling of fluid in the ankles and feet). Last, the travel over the first several days certainly didn’t help the situation.
I wasn’t very hungry and hardly ate anything. All I wanted to do was curl up in the fetal position! Unfortunately, I didn’t get much, if any, sleep. It was already late and with the diuretic starting to take effect, I was constantly making my way to the bathroom! Before I knew it, we were up again at 4am to catch a 6am commercial flight to Maui.
Feet up, compression, rest/nap, and snacks while at the gate waiting to board . . .
Upon landing, we would drive straight to Kamaole Beach Park for the Day 5 swim in Kalapaki Bay, which started at approximately 9am. This was the first time during the Deca that I was a bit nervous. Physically, I felt quite good! I was more concerned about the lack of calories (and sleep) the night before. Although my legs/feet were still swollen, they looked much better than when I finished the Day 4 run. The plan moving forward was to continue to use a diuretic at night (as needed) to help remove the remaining excess fluid and to stop taking salt altogether. I had no idea how I’d hold up on Day 5 but was excited for another day and a new island! Stay tuned!